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Complexities of the Evangelical adoption boom

Complexities of the Evangelical adoption boom

Kathryn Joyce writes in The New York Times:

Evangelical adoptions picked up in earnest in the middle of the last decade, when a wave of prominent Christians, including the megachurch pastor Rick Warren and leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention, began to promote adoption as a special imperative for believers.

Adoption mirrored the Christian salvation experience, they argued, likening the adoption of orphans to Christ’s adoption of the faithful. Adoption also embodied a more holistic “pro-life” message — caring for children outside the womb as well as within — and an emphasis on good deeds, not just belief, that some evangelicals felt had been ceded to mainline Protestant denominations. …

However well intended, this enthusiasm has exacerbated what has become a boom-and-bust market for children that leaps from country to country. In many cases, the influx of money has created incentives to establish or expand orphanages — and identify children to fill them. …

The potential for fraud and abuse is high. Orphanages tend to be filled by kids whose parents want better opportunities for them, while the root problem — extreme poverty — goes unaddressed, a Unicef worker in Ethiopia told me. Worse, some families in places with different cultural norms and legal systems relinquish their kids believing that it is a temporary guardianship arrangement, rather than an irrevocable severance of family ties.

Joyce is the author of The Child Catchers: Rescue, Trafficking, and the New Gospel of Adoption.


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Merritt’s critique seems much better reasoned ( and written) than Joyce’s article.

Bill Dilworth

Ann Fontaine

Jonathan Merritt at Religion News Service critiques Joyce and says she missed a huge opportunity.


Children in foreign orphanages are indeed in real need. Facilities are hugely substandard and inadequate. There are not enough caregivers, and children develop attachment disorders very quickly. Yes, most of these children are “social orphans,” but the fact remains that they are children in dire need of care.

When there have been abuses in the system, the US government has stepped in and put a stop to adoptions in certain countries. Other countries are very strict in screening prospective adoptive parents. From personal experience, I can tell you that the screening process of other countries is far, far more strenuous and thorough than that in the United States. Also, my social worker tells me there are 23-30 families vying for newborns in the US. In one large Eastern Europe/Asian country, only 10% of children get adopted at all.

Those of us who have adopted children from overseas orphanages really, really wish their home countries could have taken care of them. We really wish they could have found families in their home countries. The fact remains that my own child was on local, regional, and national data bases and available for adoption in his own country, but no one took him. After only one year in an orphanage, my child already had attachment problems that took years to heal. He was malnourished. If he had stayed in the orphanage, he likely would have not been treated for strabismus and would likely be blind in one eye. After several years in the United States, my child is a happy, healthy, delightful child with a bright future ahead of him. If he had stayed in his home country, he would have been turned out of the orphanage at age 15 with no family support and little education. An astronomically high number of children in this situation turn to crime or prostitution as their only way to survive.

Those of us who adopt would love to see the “root problems” in our children’s birth countries solved. But a child only has one childhood. Root problems are complex and, realistically, are not going to get “fixed” in the few short years in which a child develops.

Those of us who adopt know that we can’t save all 143 million orphans in this world. But we know – and feel strongly called – to take at least one child into our hearts and into our homes and families and make a huge difference to that one child.

Why are Evangelicals criticized for adopting children in foreign orphanages? For me, the question is, why aren’t more Episcopalians ministering to the 143 million orphans in our world?

Cynthia Coe

Jeffrey Cox

There are orphanages in USA as well.

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